Continued from Chapter 37b

The incorrect spelling is most likely due to a defective manuscript, a similar error is found in the Septuagint reading. 

As stated above, most Christian Bibles render verse 17b as: “They pierced my hands and my feet.” This supposedly follows the Septuagint, the Greek biblical text used by the early Christians. The Septuagint’s rendering is assumed by Christians not only to be dependent on understanding the Hebrew as derived from the verb “to dig [soil]” but, in addition, to have the meaning “to pierce [the flesh].”

However, the reading they propose, karu, “they dug,” is not troublefree. If it is assumed that the root of this Hebrew word is krh, “to dig,” then the function of the ’aleph in the word ka-’ari is inexplicable since it is not part of the root. As we have seen, karah consists only of the Hebrew letters kaph/resh/heh, whereas the word in the Hebrew text, ka-’ari, consists of kaph/’aleph/resh/yod. Moreover, the verb krh, “to dig,” does not have the meaning “to pierce.” Karah refers to the digging of the soil, and is never applied in the Scriptures to the piercing of the flesh (cf. Genesis 26:25, Exodus 21:33; Numbers 21:18; Jeremiah 18:20, 22; Psalms 7:16, 57:7). The verb krh is also used figuratively in Psalms 40:6, with the meaning “to open,” or “to unclog” (that is, “to dig out”) the ears.


There are a number of words which are used in Hebrew for piercing the body: ratz‘a, to pierce, to bore with an awl (Exodus 21:6); dakar, to pierce (Zechariah 12:10, Isaiah 13:15); nakar, to pierce, to bore, to perforate (2 Kings 18:21). This last word is used in a very significant sense in the last verse cited: “It [the reed] will go into his hand and pierce it.” Any of these words would be far better suited for use in this passage than one that is generally used to denote digging the soil. In New Testament references to the crucifixion, we find: “They will look upon him whom they pierced [ekekentesan]” (John 19:37) and “those who pierced [ekekentesan] him” (Revelation 1:7). In both examples, the Greek verb is ekkenteo, “to pierce” and not the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew krh, orusso, “to dig” as for example in “dug in [oruxen] the ground” (Matthew 25:18).

The translator into the Septuagint Greek most likely had a defective Hebrew text before him that had dropped the ’aleph and had an extended yod which appeared to be a vav and so he read the text as krv. We can assume this because it is more likely that a scribe for some reason left out the letter ’aleph than that he inadvertently inserted one. In addition, confusion over whether a letter is a yod or vav is common. The Septuagint renders the controversial word into the Greek as oruxan, “they dug.” Indeed, the Septuagint consistently translated karu as oruxan wherever it was mentioned in that work. Only in Psalm 22 did Christian versions of the Bible render oruxan as “they pierced.” In all 5 citations of this word it was rendered “to dig.” Perhaps the translator of the Septuagint conflated this word at Psalm 22 with the thought “they dug their nails (claws) into me,” “they dug into my flesh,” or simply translated the text before him without b5ing to analyze it. In either case, neither the Hebrew nor the Greek words mean or justify the later Christian interpretative rendering, “they pierced.”

We must also consider that while there are some Hebrew verbs that have an ’aleph intrusion in some forms of the verb, there is no example of this occurring in the verb krh.4 Advocates of the Christian reading have no example of ’aleph intrusion into krh and can only point to verse 17b in trying to establish their case. This leaves their argument as mere speculation with absolutely no proof to support their allegation. The presence of the ’aleph in those verb forms where it appears may simply be orthographic variations reflecting variant dialect pronunciation in the Hebrew spoken in different parts of ’Eretz Yisrael that made their way into the biblical text but which are no longer discernible in Hebrew speech. In any case, the presence of the ’aleph makes the Christian position all the more dubious.

One textual emendation suggested by some scholars involves determining the last letter as either yod as found in most manuscripts (viz., ka’ri, “like a lion”) or vav as found in some variant manuscripts (viz., ka’aru, “they made ugly,” “they disfigured”) and then using both words. The authoritative manuscripts have a yod as the final letter.5 The Hebrew verb kaph/‘ayin/resh (alternately spelled kaph/’aleph /resh), “to be ugly,” “to be disfigured” is not found in the Jewish Scriptures. It has been suggested that at one time both these readings were in the text as ka’ari ka’aru. This would produce through word play an added force to the imagery: “Like a lion they tore [disfigured] my hands and my feet.” Paronomasia (impossible to reproduce in translation) is a common feature found throughout the biblical text—cf. Isaiah 10:30; Jeremiah 2:12, 48:2; Joel 1:10; Micah 1:10; Habakkuk 2:18; Zephaniah 2:4; Psalms 40:4, 147:16; Lamentations 4:18. It is conjectured that because of their similar spellings one word or the 5 was dropped from the verse through scribal error.6

4 Examples of ’aleph intrusion in verb roots: la’at (“he covered”) from lut (2 Samuel 19:5), ve-yanei’tz (“and it shall blossom”) hiphil from natzatz (Ecclesiastes 12:5), ra’amah (“she shall be lifted up”) from rum (Zechariah 14:10).

5 See the Leningrad Codex. The Leningrad Codex, named for the city where it has resided since the mid-19th century is the oldest complete Hebrew Bible in existence. Dating to 1010, the text derives from the work of five generations of the Ben Asher family of Masoretes, who lived from the sixth to the early tenth century in Tiberias. However, the Leningrad Codex is not the finest example of their work, that distinction belongs to an earlier manuscript called the Aleppo Codex, which dates a century earlier then the Leningrad Codex. Psalm 22 is missing in the Aleppo Codex. The Aleppo Codex, housed in a synagogue in Aleppo, Syria, was partly destroyed by fire during anti-Jewish riots in 1947 before the surviving pages were smuggled to Jerusalem. For a list of manuscript variations of this word see the apparatus in Kittel, Biblia Hebraica, Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1997, p. 1104.

6 See Christian D. Ginsberg, Introduction to the Massoretico-Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible, (reprint) New York: Ktav Publishing House, 1966, pp. 968-972.

© Gerald Sigal